Judging A Family Tree By Its Cover



Out of my blog hiatus I come to tackle an important topic that I’ve seen on many message boards. My hiatus and this topic are closely entwined. Hopefully this reaches many people and changes their hearts about why people do DNA testing on Ancestry.com and then either don’t connect their results to a family tree, have very few people on their tree, or keep their trees private.

My hiatus was the outcome of getting a DNA test back on a family member that turned out to be half related to me. The detective in me focused every bit of spare time and effort to figuring out this mystery; I’m still in the midst of it.

I began with a shared DNA match to this family member and then viewed that person’s tree, created a mirror tree from that info, and made it a private tree. Then I found another match, added that branch to the mirror tree, and so on…. I currently have about 10 matches and their direct ancestor line created on this huge 1000+-person tree now. I’ve compared centimorgans across these matches and determined how people relate to each other. I’ve scoured obituaries to add as many living descendants as possible. This is in part, an effort to place my family member on the right leaf of this tree. Due to the highly sensitive nature of my work, I made the tree private and access by invitation only.

Of course as I found close matches, I was hungry to see their tree to confirm theories of shared common ancestors. More often than not, I was met with no tree attached to the DNA match result, a tree of just a few folks and they were showing as “Private”, and trees that were entirely made private. I’ve shared the frustration like most people on the message boards and Facebook pages. Why do the DNA test if you’re not willing to attach a tree or make it public so you can connect to relatives?

What I’ve learned throughout this 4-month hiatus is that people are taking the Ancestry DNA test for many reasons. Some have learned they were adopted and want to know who their long lost family members are. Some were never told the correct birth parent and their birth parent never knew they existed. Some people simply want to know their ethnicity and aren’t interested in their family tree. Some have taken the DNA test to help others who are on the hunt for family and either they relate to them or sadly they don’t; the result just sits there on Ancestry. Some don’t know how to connect their results to their tree yet, plain and simple. Some people want to have zero of their personal information floating in cyberspace. There are many reasons, both profound and simple, given the intricate nature of families.

I didn’t realize this blogging hiatus would become one of my greatest purposes as a professional genealogist. Because of this personal family pursuit, I’m getting close to finding a birth mother for one person, and on the trail to find two other birth fathers for matches. Sure, it’s a beautiful thing when we can collaborate and share what we know, but it’s important to realize and respect those who don’t share the same purpose. I encourage everyone when they see that lock on the tree or no tree at all, to contact that person in a gracious way and see what happens; try not to judge a family tree by its cover.

Bye, Bye My Amazon Prime, Hello Whiskey and Rye


basket-156835_640Since arriving to Australia, I’ve had to completely overhaul my atypical (to me at least) American shopping habits.

For one, my aversion to malls. Before I came here, I may have gone to a mall once a year and that was to go to the Apple Genius Bar for warranty service on my MacBook Pro, buy a last minute gift (even that would be a stretch because I relied on most purchasing through Amazon Prime) or return an item because it was more convenient that mailing it back.

Now, I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time at the mall. The answer is simple; it’s where you purchase nearly everything you need in addition to standard clothing, shoe stores, mobile phones, banks. Butcher, baker, (still looking for a candlestick maker), produce stands, seafood market, and nuts in every possible variety and flavor. Anchor stores are big grocery stores like Coles, Woolworths (aka “Woolies”), and Aldi. Add a Target or a Big W for housewares and the standard liquor warehouse. Yep, everything in one place.

My initial visits to the grocery stores were lengthy and mentally exhausting ones. I spent my time exploring each aisle in search of some semblance or similarity of products back “home”, reading a lot of labels, stocking up on all cooking and baking staples, converting measurements and currency, and just trying new things out. Steggles brand reminds me of Perdue, Uncle Toby’s is branded on Cheerios and other General Mills-like products, but Kellogg’s is Kellogg’s. Rice Bubbles are Rice Crispies and to my family’s dismay, there are no original Cheerios here, as the original Uncle Toby’s kind here is the multigrain. So far I’ve found zero breakfast cereals that do not contain sugar as one of the first few ingredients.

What I do love here especially is the produce. It’s huge, beautiful, freshly picked and usually a good price. Pick dates are usually within a few days to appearing on store shelves which makes it last longer and retains its freshness.

I also love the variety of certain items and am amused by the British influence. Where else can you find an almost entire aisle wall of canned beans? Or chocolate? Or dairy products like eggs, creams (dessert), yogurt, milk, and cheese? One major thing missing to my daily ingestion is half and half for my coffee. Why oh why does this not exist when there are so many creams but not even mixed with a bit of milk? Hopefully I am just missing something and I can find a good substitute; it’s full fat milk for me now. And canned tuna fish, in so many flavors, it’s unreal.

Tuna variety

Tuna variety

Finding the same products we like from back in the states has obviously been an expected major feat. There is a USA food store but I don’t intend to go there, as I know we will survive without everything we used to know and love. I do enjoy that Costco has a presence here and we have already made two trips there. Membership from the US works here so we will be good until renewal time. There are some comforts from home like Ruffles chips and the standard Kirkland items we use, like extra virgin olive oil and trash bags. Do not take them for granted Americans! All other trash bags in Oz do not compare to the strength of the Kirkland brand, hands down. Unfortunately we bought many brands and learned the hard way. Trash bags do not fail me now!

Now, it only makes sense that I can get housewares delivered by the likes of Target, Harvey Norman, Myer, etc., however I was thrilled to discover that the grocery stores deliver, and this includes wine, beer and liquor! Now that I’ve done the perusal and shopping in-store, my items are saved in my online profile and I can simply reorder. It’s a welcome change from ordering online and swinging by to pick them up like I used to. Delivery of our groceries along with our gin, beer, and wine made my break up with Amazon Prime membership just a bit easier to swallow.

Forgoing Family Traditions


Our swiftly approaching move to the land Down Under has uprooted the family traditions we’ve started since our first child was born 6 years ago.

Why forgo? Many reasons, but for one, it’s not a family tradition if the whole family isn’t there to enjoy it. This move has meant my husband has had to commute to and from Australia in 2 six week stints. Between the 2 stints, we did what we could to achieve the “annual” tag for the family activity. We sure did go pumpkin picking at this huge farm an hour away from the house like we always did, but we went early in the season (September) on an 80 degree day, and Daddy was gone again before the time was right to carve the pumpkins. So they sat and still do on our front porch uncarved. Daddy missed Halloween trick or treating, so I left the house decorations up until he came home and we are still all eating candy.

Now, celebrating our daughters’ birthdays one week apart around Thanksgiving is the payoff for missing Halloween. Daddy refused to miss these huge milestones, so we are back on track in the best way.
This means for me, Mommy has to make choices about other things we forego due to our belongings currently being sorted, donated, trashed, organized, packed before the movers carry it all away for the slow boat in a couple short weeks. It’s always been important for me to make them a homemade cake or cupcakes for their special days and ya know, that’s the furthest thing from my mind right now. Not to mention I will be selling my KitchenAid standing mixer as quickly as I can–it’s going to cost HOW much in Oz? I will however, substitute that with making fruit kabobs for the school celebrations and ordering a sheet cake from Costco for their joint birthday party (something I said I would always keep separate). I still have to get through Thanksgiving dinner, which now features an already cooked turkey from Whole Foods!!

Next holiday up, Christmas. How do we do this when our ornaments are on the ocean on their way to our new continent? Breathe, I tell myself. No homemade Christmas cutout cookies with buttercream frosting. We will be OK! Tree, scaled down from our typical 9 foot live Douglas fir…. not sure at this moment but am thinking one of our new pines in the back yard may work! At least we have Christmas lights here as they won’t work in Oz! So we will light the heck out of a tree and due to our friends having a wine tasting party, our kids made decorations that we will save and put on the tree and offer up to Gramma to take as keepsakes.

Getting this all out in a blog is already lifting the Mommy guilt of not doing the annual traditions we love so much. I have to tell myself, we will create new ones, this is a blip for now, we can always celebrate fully when we get there in January, wait….Summer? Thinking ahead, depending on the weather at Christmastime, it may be too hot to even think about cranking the stove heat to bake!

Anyway, I am beginning to embrace the sacrifices we had to make to our traditions to take on this fantastic adventure, and realize there are new ones we have yet to create for ourselves. My December and the girls’ November birthdays mean we could actually have POOL PARTIES! Oh yes, I feel much better now.

The Great Migration – Modern Era


I had always imagined I would travel the world but I guess had never imagined living anywhere outside of the United States. I’ve done a fair bit of traveling, although not as much as I’d like to have under my belt. Now, I’m actually moving to Australia, to live for an indefinite amount of time. Huh? Not in my wildest dreams did I imagine trading deer for kangaroos.

Thanks to an amazing work opportunity for my husband, we are packing up two small children, two cats and a dog and leaving our American life behind. Unlike migrations of generations past, ours will be on a huge ship in the sky and take just over a day of travel to get there, not months. We are also making the choice for new personal and work opportunities, not leaving due to famine or religious persecution, at least not in a literal sense.

This is difficult in some obvious respects; we are leaving my family (hubby’s a Brit) and our dear friends behind. We have to shed all of the small luxuries we’ve grown accustomed to like fast internet, nice (and fast) cars, a home on an acre of land, my day job which has always been the higher breadwinner for us, and modern convenience.

Why are we doing this then, leaving what many would call the American Dream? Because, and simply put, there’s a greater opportunity elsewhere and we are a bit disillusioned with the current state of the American Dream. My husband has been trying to grow his research program at his University here in the US but they don’t seem to be interested in supporting his work. Even though he has had funding success-what happens with ever shrinking NIH budgets when he doesn’t get funded? It’s a bit too focused on making money at the moment.

For me, I’ve lived in the pharmaceutical world for over 10 years and it’s dismal. Corporate integrity is on the line as my company pays for past mistakes, the anticipated blockbuster sales are lackluster, and I am in a current position I didn’t strive for and which buries my talents. I also have my genealogy business that deserves attention to see what it truly can become. The time is now for greener pastures.

While not exactly green, we are headed to Melbourne, Australia, which seems to be in the process of a reinvention. Named the most livable city in the world the last several years, we are about to see what all of the fuss is about. I visited in February for less than a week but it was enough to know Australians are friendly and my husband would be supported in his line of work. No longer an island, there was a true team dedicated to propelling science that encourages an active lifestyle and its direct effects on chronic health conditions.

While the transition planning, hubby’s Oz job commute 2 times for several weeks, house move and sell are all big factors and adjustments for us now, we know in our hearts this is the right next step for us and are open to what our Oz future holds.

Stay tuned, there’s always more…

Family Recipes – Tried and true

Kept, on the left

Kept pile on the left

If you’re at all like me, over the years you’ve been collecting recipes from family, friends, magazines, blogs, websites, food delivery services or jotted them down quickly off of a cooking show.

What happens to all of those recipes? In my case, I have amassed a kitchen drawer full. So full in fact, I always have a hard time opening and closing it every time I reach for my oven mitts which are always shoved back in the top of the drawer.

This morning I am going through this drawer piled high with paper and purging, digitizing or saving as keepsakes. With an impending international move, I can’t feel ok anymore with dragging these paper scraps with me. As a professional genealogist, I’ve been digitizing a massive amount of family photos, why should this area of my life be any different?

End result, I have put a stack into the recycling bin and digitized about 10, and kept 5.

What the heck have I been doing all of these years carrying this stuff with me? I like to cook but all of these things I thought I would “try” someday never happened. And the tried and true recipes I could count on cooking or baking year after year? Yep, those special recipes passed down generations in my family.

Are you sitting on a pile of recipes too? What’s your plan for them? Share your ideas here. Next stop, cookbooks….

“God will forgive me, won’t he?”


These were some of the last words spoken by Sister Mary Jude as we said our goodbyes.

This Memorial Day weekend was spent making a pilgrimage of sorts to the Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary. It was Sister Mary Jude’s 50th Golden Jubilee of her Profession as a cloistered Dominican nun. It’s not often one gets a glimpse of this contemplative and prayerful life behind the monastery walls and when invited to share in this special day, I didn’t think twice. So with my mother and five year old daughter in tow, we flew to Buffalo, NY.

I had been there before, 25 years earlier for the Silver Jubilee and my first time before that was in the early 80s with my mom and grandmother. I wanted to keep with that “tradition” and share the experience with my own daughter. Those that know me well as non-religious found it hard to believe this was such a big deal to me. Why would I be canceling my trip to Vegas in favor of hanging with cloistered nuns in a monastery? What’s the draw?

My answer, Sister Mary Jude is my Great Aunt Terry. She is my maternal grandmother’s sister and in her days on the outside lived life to its fullest. She was known as daring, free-spirited, beautiful and stylish and with the voice of an angel. She sang in her Uncle’s band and always made time to visit the children at each of her sisters’ homes. She was also engaged to be married before she received her calling.

Since 1961 she’s been a different kind of sister, but hasn’t lost her spunk. She still keeps the other nuns on their toes and is still quick to enjoy the finer things in life, situation permitting, or fitting should I say.

When we told her she accepted communion but did not partake of the wine, she seemed disappointed in herself and was sure she would make it up with two sips next time. Our cousin came to the rescue and brought a water bottle filled with remnants of strawberry and mango Arbor Mist. A quick spin of the turnstile and it was in the grateful hands of Sister Mary Jude. Time and prayer has affected her ability to raise her head very well at the ripe age of 86 but damned if she didn’t throw that sip of wine back in a hurry. She joked it was no problem to raise her head when she needed to.

Once during our conversation she had also honed in on my daughter who was sitting at the table quietly coloring in one of the religious coloring books offered there. My daughter was also snacking. “What’s she eating?” my Aunt Terry asked.

In an instant we were also introducing her to Pirate Booty. Enter Sister Mary Emmanuel who has been in just a bit longer than Aunt Terry, having entered when she was 18. She’s the perfect compliment to Aunt Terry and you can tell they enjoy each other’s company. We introduced her to Pirate Booty as well…and then the iPad.

Both were amazed by the technology and ability to see the rest of the family members in an instant. Sister Emmanuel got the finger swipe mastered in all of 2 seconds and I sat there just caught in the emotional moment of my littlest daughter on the other side of the cloister grill work in the loving hand of Great Great Aunt Terry (to her anyway). The joy it brought to both sisters was so heart warming and I started to get the idea that all of the nuns should have their own iPads. But then again, that kinda goes against why they are there in the first place.

At the end of the visit for the day, it was just my mom, my daughter and me and even Aunt Terry was finally alone on the other side. We were all having a hard time letting go. At our urging, we proposed the sneaky idea of her coming out of the cloister door to say a physical goodbye. She had done it only once before that we were aware of. It seemed to take forever to unlock and open the door, but once it opened we all wasted no time in getting huge hugs and kisses with Aunt Terry. Before she hugged us she said with a twinkle in her eye, “God will forgive me, won’t he?”.ImageImageImage

Yes Aunt Terry, I think for you, he will forgive this moment and by the way your huge shipment of Pirate Booty is on the way to the monastery. Love you.




RootsTech 2014 and a month of Mormon



Any genealogist worth one’s salt (yes, pun intended) at some time must make the pilgrimage to the city which boasts the most family history records on earth.  This was my first time there and having exhausted the microfilm deliveries in my local Family History Center, it was time to develop a robust research plan and couple a trip to the Family History Library (FHL) with RootsTech 2014, the largest US gathering of all things genealogy, technology, history, story.

Sparing the play-by-play (which is what Twitter and Facebook are for), I will glean some of the highlights. Day 1, Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman. Her keynote was filled with the luscious ingredients of family, farm and food woven together to create a beautiful and moving story about her life on the plains and humble blog beginnings to the amazing brand she has created. Her story was peppered with images of her children, her basset hounds, a close-up of her Marlboro Man husband’s backside in Wranglers and a precious image of a cow walking right up to the open home windows to say hello. Oh and of course pictures of delectable food dishes! I had no idea after the moving keynote event that I would get an opportunity for a selfie and a quick Q&A with her!


The FindMyPast seminars were one of the most informative and additive to my Irish research, however if I could skip the sponsored lunch with them that I paid $25 for to watch them go back in time in a Delorean and the Dr. Who TARDIS, I would. I was on a mission to replace that moment in time with much better food and never ate a thing in the convention center. 

Other seminars that were particularly useful to me were digital organization and workflows, blog features with WordPress, and communicating in a sea of social media.

I did have a ticket for late night at the FHL on Friday night, but I started to get smart about planning my days so I could beat the crowd. I skipped the next 2 days of keynotes after discovering they would be online at rootstech.org later. No sense in smearing my mascara each morning during those emotional speeches so instead I went to the library. Here was my view:


Yes, I geeked out here while most people were on date night. While I think I only uncovered one piece of info to help my own research along, it was always a nice visit there. All of the volunteers (read Mormons on missions) were a delight and so flirtatious even the eldest of the ladies!

Food-well once I got past the conference food experience, I was on the hunt for local, tasty eats and I have a couple recommendations which are all within walking distance from the Salt Palace Convention Center. Sixth and Vine is a yummy American comfort food stop in Nordstrom. You get to watch your meal prepared before your eyes (counter service for 1) and it warms your soul. I got braised short ribs with mashed potatoes, spinach and the best onion rings I’ve ever had. Dinner was Naked Fish and I had the best sushi I’ve ever had-seriously, no lie, it was like butter. The spicy garlic edamame was very tasty as was the vegetable tempura but you must try the sushi!

To wrap up these highlights in a pretty bow, I have to say the thing I yearned to do the most with each spare moment was to view the sights around Temple Square. The architecture is magnificent and no detail spared. The Tabernacle was acoustically the coolest place to whisper in and hear your sound travel on the wind. As I was wandering through, I came across a man training his Belgian Malinois puppy. Why is this a highlight? Because my conversation with him made me realize I should never get one of this amazing breed even as badly as I had wanted one before. Too much drive and needs constant training, like all day and shouldn’t be left alone. OK, that’s all I needed to hear.

So in a matter of days, I was back to my reality at home and then snowed in for 3 days with the kids. I still have so much more to blog about and need some real time to do so. But this month would not be complete without a Broadway Show about…you guessed it, Mormons.


A fondness for table scars


Cleaning the kitchen table after dinner tonight I discovered all of the new scratches and scrapes. I shrugged and said to myself, this is life. We didn’t spend much on this table but the value it holds is immeasurable.

This table was the ideal replacement for the one the previous occupiers of our home had used when they owned this house. I remember loving their cute little table in the eat-in kitchen and we even offered extra cash at closing for it, but they wouldn’t hear of it. They had spent so much time and memories were created over that table and it was going with them. I never realized then what importance that table brought to them, I just thought it looked cute and we wanted to have that furnishing taking care of when we moved in.

Fast forward almost 7 years and I am getting teary-eyed over our current table. There’s nothing special about the furniture itself, but there’s no way I could ever part with it. Why? The chairs for one have seen baby booster seats strapped to them and have worn away the finish from the milk and countless other sticky items that have been encrusted under the seat. Both of our girls have stabbed the table with forks, we’ve planted countless herbs and vegetable seedlings, hosted parties, stripped some of the finish with nail polish remover as we’ve painted nails, and the grooves along the edge are filled with dried yogurt–yes this table is a keeper.

My oldest daughter in the past week has remained quiet on the car ride home and refused to tell me how her day was, what she learned at school or why she’s sad about something until our family is sat at the table so she can tell us all at once. I live for the moments at our table. Whether it’s a meal, a card game, a science project, a craft or playing under it with blankets and figurines, this is the precious time and memory that this table absorbs.

My youngest daughter likes to steal food, solicit hugs and kisses, climb across, jab and scrape with any sharp object, and spill any drink (on purpose) on this table so it must be important to her as well. This table is a living thing in this house.

Both kids without prompting (and mind you they are 5 and 2) both offer to clean the table and chairs when they see me cleaning it. They wipe the dirt, food smudges, drips and we start all over again the next meal, moment, memory.

Do you treasure your table like we do? Share your story with us!

Talking with the dead


I was trying to get this blog post out sooner but then I realized (besides my lack of time this time of year) that this would be better fitting during the holidays when most people celebrate their faith, traditions or customs and remember those that are no longer with us. I wonder if by merely remembering them in the holidays past, we are communicating with them.

The Long Island Medium would probably say yes. In fact, I took my mom to see her in October. I knew I had a spiritual experience there although I don’t practice a religion. I really felt she talked with the departed and brought comfort and closure to so many people that night. Will their holidays be a little lighter this year after that experience? I hope so. What do you think? What experiences have you had of a supernatural kind like that that helped you to find peace with losing someone? Every time we think or dream of a person, look at the clock at the same time out of habit, have a light that flickers at a certain moment, is that a sign from the dead?

One tidbit I’ve shared on my personal Facebook page is the connection I’ve felt between my grandmother, her sister (my Great Aunt) and my now 2-year old daughter. After having our first daughter through IVF, we were a bit shocked when we found out I was pregnant with a second while in the urgent care suffering from an upper respiratory infection. This day we also heard the news of my Great Aunt’s passing. Aunt Margaret was like a surrogate Gramma to me as mine passed when I was 13 on Thanksgiving Day. Growing up I always felt it was hard to be thankful on Thanksgiving Day when my Gramma was taken from us on that holiday. Cutting this story to the quick, my daughter was born later that year (12 days earlier than her December due date) on November 28th, the same date as my Gramma’s passing. This year of course the day fell again on Thanksgiving. A birthday celebration with this new little life has brightened even the saddest of memories of loss. I am a firm believer that if you pay attention and are open to it, signs and communication come from the dead.

As a genealogist, I feel like I am in constant touch by bringing stories to life from the grave. It’s the untold relationships and stories that I stumble upon that enrich my own family search or provide insight and clarity to others. I welcome you to post replies sharing signs you’ve received or other amazing events that have occured and how they’ve brought you closure and closer with the dead. Have a wonderful holiday season and Happy New Year!

Data driven crazy…by Google


That’s me currently. I’ll admit, I do love research and technology. It’s the behind the scenes data and interconnectedness that amazes and perplexes me. Sure I hit roadblocks like any other genealogist, but the ones I am finding myself up against lately are of a technology nature as it relates to starting my business.

I get asked pretty regularly, how’s your website traffic, what’s your reach? I just assumed I could go into my web hosting service and see the data. It must be buried pretty deep because I couldn’t find anything and the support boards weren’t any help either. Time to spend some time and do this right.

Google Analytics was the recommendation I found at every turn. What, it’s free?! I’m sure the catch is that Google has access to my data in my website, maybe more. I can deal with that, I think… So I pulled the GA switch this weekend. From there, I went to my Facebook company page and figured what the heck, let’s promote this page and I created a paid ad with a fixed budget not the crazy $5 per day. I set up target audience demographics, interests etc… I thought, this is way too easy. And it really was! I downloaded both the Facebook Insights and another analytics app that pulls in the GA data. Now, I’m hooked. I can tell in an instant how many unique visitors, what’s my bounce rate and how long they stay on each page of the website. Just plain cool.

Google has some cool technology typically so I thought I would check out the Google Glass tour that started in Durham, NC. This proved to be an underwhelming experience compared to all of the great tech endeavors Google has been part of. After waiting in an hour long sun-baked line with my children (2 under the age of 5) and our caregiver, it was finally our turn to see what the buzz was about. I put the Google Glass on, it kept trying to find a connection. It didn’t understand my commands, or actually my question “Ok Glass, where am I?” until it was my last moment with this contraption. Finally the screen above my right eye displayed the words “Durham NC” and then showed me on a map. Hmmm, do I need a small piece of glass monitor over my right eye to show me where I am? Perhaps I should have asked how to say “good evening” in Japanese. As a genealogist, the most practical purpose i considered this Terminator type eye piece would provide was the ability to take photos of graves and dictating what was being viewed. I could easily pull out my iPhone for this and as far as pics, the $1500 current pricetag of Glass would more easily translate to a new Nikon.

While I continue to build my business, I will be keeping stock of the steps and technology along the way. Watch out there could be a lecture in my future! In the meantime, I wonder how many new visitors liked my Facebook page or visited my website while I wrote this? Ok Glass, where am I?